Hauntings of Halloween past

Published 11:00 am Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Albert Lea Tribune featured this Halloween illustration, by Ed Kudlaty, on the front page of its Friday, Oct. 30. 1964, edition. – Provided

The Albert Lea Tribune featured this Halloween illustration, by Ed Kudlaty, on the front page of its Friday, Oct. 30. 1964, edition. – Provided

Looking back at October celebrations in Albert Lea throughout the years

By Cathy Hay

There were more likely to be boys in the belfry than bats on Halloween in Albert Lea a hundred years ago. A common trick was to sneak up church towers to ring the bells, startling a sleeping town. Pranksters twisted this holiday, steeped in both superstition and religion, as an excuse to spirit away large objects, tip over outhouses and soap windows.

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The 1914 Freeborn County Standard was relieved to report a quiet Halloween compared to past years.

“What has happened to the boys who used to make Halloween a night of fear and trembling to peaceful and law-abiding citizens?” the newspaper wrote. “In parts of the city there were a few gangs of small boys out with Jack-lanterns and a few light articles were moved about but nothing happened, which was very much beyond the ordinary.”

Long before costumed beggars went door-to-door, there were private parties and dancing at local lodges.

The Nov. 4, 1914, Standard also reported spirited gatherings:

“Master William and Miss Helen Sherman entertained Saturday afternoon about 15 teachers of the city school with whom they were associated during their school work. Halloween games were indulged in in the afternoon and at six o’clock the whole party sat down to a bounteous supper served by Mrs. Harry Sherman, the mother of the children.”

“The Win-One Bible class of the Methodist church held a most enjoyable entertainment on Halloween eve at the Methodist church parlors. A unique program was carried out in which all participated. About 75 guests were present.”

“Miss Frieda Peterson entertained the F. R. E. L at her home on William Street Halloween evening. The guests made merry with improvised Halloween stunts following which a dainty lunch was served.”

“The girls of the Normal department of the city schools held a Halloween celebration in the banquet room of the high school building Friday afternoon. The affair was a great success from every standpoint. The rooms had been artistically decorated to carry out the Halloween idea and a program full of the Halloween spirit was rendered. Delightful refreshments were served, and after Halloween games were played in which everyone joined with fun and interest.”

In 1939, adults could also shake their bones at the Aragon, which was giving away hats, balloons and favors, or at the Palm Garden, a popular café and dance place.

In its weekly ad, Jack Sprat Food Stores promoted “Hunger Haunting Halloween Foods,” with tricolor candy corn on sale for 17 cents per pound, Halloween jelly beans 12.5 cents per pound and canned pumpkin at two tins for 19 cents.

The Rivoli Theater on Broadway offered goose bumps with a “big double show” Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, presenting “Charlie Chan at Treasure Island,” a mystery featuring the famous detective at the 1939 World Exposition in San Francisco, plus the action thriller of “Forged Passports.”

On Oct. 30 that year the Tribune offered tips on “How to have fun on Halloween without aggravating police: Carve a pumpkin, eat apples off a string, go to a party and holler BOO!”

The local newspaper reprinted an editorial from the Minneapolis Tribune, urging communities to organize Halloween fun as a way to prevent pranks. The editorial cited Anoka as a successful example. In 1920, Anoka became one of the first, if not the very first, in the nation to plan a city-wide Halloween event. The idea was to divert teenagers from stunts like setting cows loose on Main Street.

In the 1930s, Anoka was congressionally declared the Halloween capitol of the world. Today, Anoka celebrates over 20 events during the month of October for Halloween.

In Albert Lea, the Y’s Men held such an event for youth under age 15. Close to 1,000 hungry youngsters were expected at the 1939 “Hallowe’en Pow Wow” at Edgewater Park. Youngsters were to report to their grade school or Central Park at 5:30 p.m. promptly on Halloween, for truck transport to the park. Parents were advised to dress their boys — and girls — in plenty of warm clothing. In case of severe weather, the Pow Wow would move to a fairgrounds building.

By the 1960s, trick-or-treating turned Albert Lea into a ghost and costumed city. Pulling pranks also persisted. Fifty years ago, the Albert Lea Police Department was bracing for any destructive vandalism on Halloween with extra patrols planned.

Instead of being out for blood, Northside School students were trick-or-treating for donations for UNICEF, a United Nations-sponsored program to help needy children around the world. After making the rounds, the students were treated to a party at the school sponsored by the Northside PTA.

For night owls, there were club parties and mystery movies. The Glenville American Legion Hall was planning a “Hard Time Costume Party,” awarding four prizes for best costumes. The Starlight Lounge at the Skyline Supper Club was also holding a free Halloween dance. The Broadway Theater was showing “Fate is the Hunter,” a movie about the crash of an airliner and subsequent investigation.

By the 1980s, the spirit of Halloween was more about trick-or-treating for candy and being scared to death by movies like “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th.”

In 1991, Mother Nature played the worst trick on the Albert Lea community with the infamous Halloween ice storm that gripped the area for several days. The chill was real that Thursday night when wind and freezing rain soon glazed everything with ice and snapped power poles like matchsticks. At the height of the storm, a 180-mile stretch of Interstate 90 from South Dakota to Rochester was closed. According to National Weather Service records, 11 southern Minnesota counties were declared federal disaster areas and at least 20,000 people lost electricity for many days.

The Minnesota National Guard was called in to help run generators and keep operations like dairy farms running. In Albert Lea, the Red Cross set up a shelter at Northbridge Mall without power and heat. Tribune reporters and photographers slid across the county, taking photos and writing stories. Power came back on at the Tribune on Saturday, Nov. 2, and the presses ran late that night. Newspaper carriers then struggled the next day to deliver the Tribune, which offered a substantial treat of storm news.